WWith a giant Stars and Stripes and two sparkling cars at his back, Joe Biden turned to focus his remarks on a member of the audience. “With all my heart, I pray that your grandmother and your family are well,” he told Rashida Tlaib, the only American Palestinian in Congress. “I promise you, I will do everything to see that they are in the West Bank. You are a fighter.
It was a signature peace offer from the US president, even as protesters gathered outside the Ford plant in Dearborn, Mich., And Tlaib herself challenged Biden for her unwavering support for Israel. But Tuesday’s move, and even a Middle East ceasefire declared on Thursday, may not be enough to bridge a growing divide within the Democratic Party.
Biden’s first hundred days as president were striking for their rare display of democratic unity, pleasantly surprising the left with its ambitions for government spending, racial justice and the climate crisis. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman from New York, said her administration “definitely exceeded the expectations of progressives.”
Even when a crack appeared last month in Biden’s plan to maintain former President Donald Trump’s cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States, the White House backed down in the hours that followed. followed a fierce backlash from the progressives and harmony was restored.
But Israel’s bombing campaign against Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip, which killed 65 children in 11 days, was on a different scale. He highlighted a generational and political divide within the party that cannot be so easily bridged.
On the one hand, Biden, 78, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, 78, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 81, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 81, who all grew up in a political era when reflective support for Israel was axiomatic. Hoyer said this week: “We must not allow extremists to hijack important discussions about securing a better future for Israelis and Palestinians by promoting false rhetoric. “
On the other side are the “squad”, progressive members of Congress and people of color who include Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez (both called Israel an “apartheid state”), Ilhan Omar from Minnesota (who called the Israeli airstrikes “terrorism”) and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts (who tweeted “We cannot stand idly by when the United States government sends $ 3.8 billion in military aid to Israel which is used to demolish Palestinian homes, imprison Palestinian children and displace Palestinian families”).
The generational gap reflects a larger trend among the American population. John Zogby, a pollster, notes much more sympathy for Palestinians among voters under 40 than those over 60. “The elderly can recall the original legend of David Ben-Gurion [Israel’s first prime minister] and the wars of 1967 and 1973, ”he said. “Voters under 40 evoke Benjamin Netanyahu [Israel’s current prime minister], the Intifada and now several bombings in Gaza. “
Youth is not the only force shifting the center of gravity of the Democratic Party. On Thursday, left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders, 79, introduced a resolution blocking a $ 735 million arms sale to Israel while his colleague Elizabeth Warren, 71, hailed the ceasefire. but urged Biden to push for a two-state agreement “which begins with taking all appropriate measures to end the occupation”.
Several pro-Israel members of Congress have also raised questions in recent days, a sign that while support for Israel’s right to self-defense remains strong, skepticism about its government’s treatment of Palestinians is no longer taboo. . The fact that the scathing comments from “the squad” went unchecked speaks volumes about what has changed in the past few years.
Logan Bayroff, a spokesperson for J Street, a liberal American Jewish lobby group, said: “There are changes and you see it on the left side of the spectrum with vocal and unapologetic advocacy for Palestinian rights. like AOC. [Ocasio-Cortez] and others, but you also see it reflected across much of the party.
“What’s remarkable is that we still don’t see this reflected in terms of the politics or rhetoric of the Biden administration. I think it’s less than half the party compared to the other and it’s more Congress pushing in one direction and the administration is not yet following.
Activists and analysts suggest that various push and pull factors are at work. Netanyahu’s ostentatious alliance with Trump, whom he praised for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, makes him a singularly unsympathetic figure to Democrats. Netanyahu has fiercely opposed Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump has abandoned but Biden is seeking to revive.
Bayroff added: “When you have an Israeli leader who has identified so closely with the ideology, rhetoric and tactics of right-wing ethnonationalism and who explicitly echoed Donald Trump and Trumpism – as well as to align with other democracies and illiberal leaders like Orbán and Bolsonaro and Modi – this is the antithesis of the pluralist and diverse liberal democracy that most Democratic voters and a growing number of Americans support. This will therefore lead to a collision.
Meanwhile, a new generation of Americans, including American Jews, has grown up with an increased awareness of social justice movements. Sanders and others have compared the Palestinian struggle to Black Lives Matter and want to apply national principles to foreign policy.
Bayroff added: “We are seeing a global push in all aspects of American politics and politics from a rising generation and many voters to center human rights, dignity and equality and equality. treatment and social justice for all. When they see a 54-year occupation and a system where Palestinians have a different set of rules and cannot vote for their own government and face a different legal system than their settler neighbors, that’s something they do. people reject and want to see America’s work come to an end. ”
But some Democrats who support racial justice causes are nonetheless uncomfortable with the comparison.
Ron Klein, President of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said: “We have made it clear to our friends at Black Lives Matter and various civil rights organizations that we are on the same team. The Palestinian problems constitute a separate set of problems. Do not confuse the two, they are totally different and it is not part of the formal Black Lives Matter movement.
Klein thinks recent “team” statements have gone too far. “I think they are wrong,” he continued. “They are entitled to their opinion as elected members of Congress, but they take a lot of their information out of context. I’m not here to suggest that Israel always does the right things, but Israel is a very strategic ally of the United States.
However, the political and social upheaval of recent years has shaken many old certainties about the crossing of lines once perceived as impassable. Democrats, who may have long harbored doubts about Israeli policy, but bit their lip because of the political risks taken, now feel free to speak out.
Peter Beinart, editor and editor of Jewish Currents, tweeted: “The reason the American debate on Israel-Palestine could change drastically and quickly is that many Democratic politicians do not need to be convinced that what Israel is doing is wrong. They just need to be convinced that they can say it without hurting their careers.
Biden, who has impressed many young liberals with his daring platform, finally appears to have run into a problem where old cautious habits die off. However, with Democrats holding only narrow majorities in both the House and Senate, “the team” might be dissuaded from causing serious division on a foreign policy issue when so many stakes are at stake on the issue. home front.
Max Berger, The editorial director of the liberal group More Perfect Union, said: “I think it is highly unlikely that this portends a significant break from the Democratic coalition, but it opens a question: will the White House be too? reactive to progressives in foreign policy? as they have been on domestic politics? The honest answer is we’ll see.